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Another look at the Common Data Service

Hi folks!

We announced the General Availability of the Common Data Service in this blog back in November 2016. We explained that the Common Data Service enables powerful data storage and modeling, offers a data access layer with support for importing and exporting data, and comes with out-of-the-box data management experiences in familiar applications such as Outlook.  Well, now we’re back again - this time with a much more concrete view of what you can do with the Common Data Service, as well as an update on several exciting features that have been released and a description of things to come over the next few months.  So here we go!

What is the Common Data Service?

As we talk with customers about how they do their work and solve their problems, we keep finding ourselves asking the same question: Wouldn’t life be easier if everything just worked together?  More and more, customers are needing to take on significant work to tie together multiple apps, services and solutions so their users are able to get their work done.  That’s where we come in:

Microsoft’s Common Data Service brings together your business data in one place so you can focus on the things that matter: building apps, finding insights and automating your business processes. 

With CDS, gone are the days where you need to invest in elaborate (and expensive!) systems to tie together multiple, disparate systems so your users can use and build the apps and experiences they need.  We do that all heavy lifting for you!  And what’s more, we have taken on the work to light up the full range of Microsoft’s ecosystem against your data that lives here.  

But let’s get more concrete. The CDS team’s goal is to deliver on 3 things to our customers:

  1. The CDS is the focal point for your data

  2. The CDS is a great place to build and manage your apps

  3. It just works with other Microsoft services

We’ll explore each of these in depth below, talk about what’s available now, and share a sneak peek at some of what’s coming!

The focal point for all your data

One of the biggest benefits of building with the Common Data Service is that we do all the heavy lifting of bringing your data together in one place for your users and applications.  If you’re already using other Microsoft services like Dynamics 365 for Sales or Operations, or even Azure Active Directory and Office 365, we’re making it so that your data just shows up in the Common Data Service.  Not only does this data show up without you needing to invest time, effort or infrastructure, the data from across these services are automatically fully integrated and related as appropriate in our data model! 

At the core of the Common Data service is an extensible data model (we call this the “Common Data Model”) that is shared by all your apps built on the CDS.  The data model starts with a set of commonly used business entities that we automatically provision for you.  These entities are well understood by business app developers the world over, and we work hard to ensure that these entities are as broadly applicable as possible. For example, we automatically make available entities for managing Customers, Employees, Products, Accounts, Sales Orders and Sales Leads. There are many more entities in the Common Data Model, and you can learn about them here

If these entities don’t meet your needs, you can extend them or even create brand new ones.  The entities you create or extend can be shared by any apps that are also using the CDS.  This means all your company’s apps are able to build on one another, providing the best, most consistent experience for your users.  What's more - you don't need to be burdened with connecting to each of the other applications you want to share data with.  The fact that all apps are using the CDS means that data from those apps are available for your app to use without any additional work on your part!

We have significant on-going investments in our core data model and services over the coming months including:

  1. Data integration capabilities that automatically sync in data from our 1st party services like Dynamics 365 for Sales and Operations with just a few clicks.  We’ve just launched an initial preview of these capabilities in the past month through our Prospect to Cash integration features.  Soon we’ll be back to talk about how we are enabling you to bring in data from across Microsoft and even non-Microsoft sources too!

  2. Many new entities from a variety of areas including Customer Engagement, Project Management, Incident Management, Service Management and Human Resources.  We’re also working with partners throughout the industry to enable exciting new scenarios when we bring data together across business domains - expect to hear more on this very soon!

  3. Multiple Dynamics 365 applications and offerings that are built on this Common Data Service.  These apps build on the CDS, so the data that’s used by those apps are available for you to build your own apps against.

The CDS’s goal in this space is to make it so customers don’t need to take on significant investment to enable their users to use and build apps that are operating on a single, centralized set of data. And these features get us there.

A great place to build and manage apps

Our investments in the Focal point for data space means your data is now in CDS.  We recognize that this is only meaningful if you can use the data!  So we’ve made it as quick, easy, and reliable as possible for your app creators to create, distribute and manage apps with the CDS. 

We’ve done lots of work to enable the whole spectrum of app creators to be able to build apps with our service!

  • For the low-code/novice app creator: we have best in class integration with the PowerApps.  Drag and drop to create your apps on data from the CDS in no time! 

Here's how choosing the Entity to build a PowerApp with looks in PowerApps Web Studio:

  • For the professional developer: we have a rich C# SDK in private preview that enables you to build complex web apps or rich client applications.

Additionally, you can power-up your Powerapps by building complex logic with the C# SDK and host it in an Azure Function!  And once you’ve built these apps, our Import/Export administrative capabilities means IT Pros and ISVs can move these apps and associated configuration from development to production environments.

But again, this is only the beginning for us.  We are working to light up several key app-creation scenarios:

  1. Write even better apps on or with CDS. We are continuing to invest in our developer SDK for the CDS that enables partners, ISVs and even the weekend developer to build or integrate their apps with the CDS and gain access to the rich data that lives here.  The preview of this SDK has just started and we’re excited to broaden both the audience and capability sets soon.

  2. Make PowerApps + CDS even simpler. We are evolving the PowerApps on CDS app creation experiences by introducing more powerful out-of-the-box forms that will automatically configure based on entity metadata and relationships in the CDS.  Learn more about Entity Forms, the first of these investments!

  3. Improved import/export capabilities so you can choose which entities and security artifacts (roles, etc.) you want to export from your development environment!

Additionally, we know it is critical to keep your data safe and secure. To help you with this, we have enhanced security capabilities in private preview as we speak.  Specifically, we've increased the granularity at which the data in the CDS can be secured so IT Pros can restrict access to data at a record-level of granularity.  And in the coming months we will also add the ability for IT Pros to secure data based on even more advanced business artifacts and concepts such as hierarchies, regions and business units.

It just works with other Microsoft Services

Great.  Now that you have your data in one place, and you can build your apps on top, you’re asking : "what can I do now?".  The good news is that all of this is just the beginning!  One of the most compelling reasons for building with the Common Data Service is that we do all the work to make the rest of Microsoft light up with your data!  These out of the box integrations are critical for you to deliver intelligent insights, shorten time-to-action and enable your users to maximize their productivity. 

The first of these out-of-the-box integrations with Microsoft services went live when we announced our public preview of Power BI integration with CDS.  This means your data model and all the data in it is natively accessible in Power BI Desktop (secured with the roles and policies IT Pros have defined, of course!).  This integration also enables you to shape what shows up for your users in Power BI by customizing your perspectives.  Your business users can autonomously build the reports and dashboards they need against it without IT pros needing to get involved.  You can find the Power BI Connector Common Data Service in the Online Services category under Get Data:

Similarly, the in-market Outlook add-in enables end-users to use their Office 365 contacts with the Common Data Service so they can tie-in existing knowledge and relationships with customers and partners for their business processes and communications.  Again, the Outlook add-in means end-users in your company can manage the relevant data in the CDS without your LOB app or IT department needing to lift a finger.  And to top it all off, Microsoft Flow also knows how to work with the Common Data Service as a 1st class data source so your users can automate the business processes they need.

These examples above are just the beginning of our journey.  In the coming months we will continue to light up these types of “Better together” experiences for our customers.  Some of the exciting areas we’re actively making investments include:

  • we’re working with the Office 365 team so that business processes and apps can use productivity artifacts like calendar events and tasks natively in their apps

  • we’re working very closely with the Microsoft Graph team so that the data we bring together in CDS is exposed via the Graph for apps that are already built using the Graph REST APIs or SDKs

  • working with partners like Microsoft StaffHub to automatically integrate data from your Dynamics services to enhance users’ StaffHub experiences

The Road Ahead

As you can see from above, there are a lot of new and exciting features in coming the months ahead!  We are super excited to be working on features and stories for you all.  As we move forward we’ll keep in touch with you through blog posts, the Forums and of course our Conferences.  We have an exciting journey ahead of us together and we truly appreciate all your feedback to date.  So please, please keep the feedback coming. 

If any of the previews above sound interesting, contact us at cdspreviewprogs_at_microsoft.com for more information about our preview programs or to learn more.   

Rock on!
the Common Data Service Team